Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Round One Thoughts

The first round is invariably the best round. So many matchups, so many stories, upsets. By the time the Final rolls around the grind has taken its toll on the players and the ice is soft and crappy and quite often the matchup is a dud. The highlight for me, the presentation of the Cup, is still great but even it has been watered down over the years by the confinement of the players to a little area of the ice and of course Bettman's presence doesn't help my mood one bit.

 But in the first round you get wars and major surprises and hockey hockey hockey every night all night. Its the best.

 What can we learn from the first round? Not much really. Narratives are written based on a team's performance over a two week period and what happens two weeks later means a new narrative is written. So a player who does not score in the playoffs is soft and a choker until he scores some and then when he doesn't then he is labelled again. Unless the media likes him.

 Anyway here are some thoughts, series by series.

Chicago - Minnesota

Colby Cosh wrote about how a short season meant that some pretty shitty teams would make the post season. The Wild were one. I've never been a fan of the Wild. Jack Lemaire put in that passive Devils type of hockey into place and years later nothing has changed. I'm not even talking about trapping, I'm just talking about a style which has no style. The Wild barely hit, they didn't attack, they didn't do a damn thing and any chance they had at all went down when Backstrom did. No sorrow from this quarter, especially with Leipold being a driving force behind the lockout apparently. The Hawks barely broke a sweat and except for the first goal Crawford allowed he was fine, which may put to bed their biggest worry. They are so deep on the back end that its difficult to figure out which is their top pair and which is their third and their bottom six scored seven of seventeen goals in their series. They're the real deal, which we knew, and as I noted in my thoughts on round two, things are working out nicely for them in terms of the draw they have.

Anaheim - Detroit

 I watched very little of this one but Pavel Datsyuk provided everyone with some more magic moments on his way to the Hall of Fame. I figured the Wings had a good chance in this one and they proved me right. They're not the team they once were but they're still solid. As for the Ducks well they were riding the percentages all year and these failed them (and especially Corey Perry) when it mattered most. One revelation? Old friend Andrew Cogliano playing tough minutes and doing so quite well. The playoffs - always a source of embarassment for Oiler fans somehow.

 Vancouver - San Jose

 What happened here is probably the most interesting result from the first round and one from which a few possible serious conclusions might be drawn. It looks like Vancouver's window is closing and the question is what now? Vigneault will likely take the gaspipe although really I don't know if they will find a better coach out there. Luongo will finally be traded but the return will be very little unless Gillis finds a couple of desperate teams this season, which is possible. And then Gillis needs to figure out if he needs to tinker (like San Jose has done for the most part these past few years) or if he needs to tear it down. His core is getting older for the most part and the worry for him has to be whether his club is a contender anymore or if they are just reaping the reward of playing in a garbage division. Even if it is the latter though can he bring in enough to make the team a contender once again in the twilight of the Sedins?

 Its one thing to lose because of some bad bounces, quite often a team will get swept undeservedly (I think of San Jose in 2010 for one) but the Canucks were full value for this loss for the most part. Where do they go from here and can they rejig it around the Sedins, Kesler, Bieksa et al? Should make for a very interesting summer.

 St. Louis - Los Angeles

 This one was a war as expected and in the end it went to the defending champions. For the Blues, to me, it comes down to the fact that they lack those pure offensive gamebreakers. They have some great players, no doubt, but unlike the Kings who have guys like Kopitar, Doughty, Williams, Carter and so on, they tend to be more grinders than snipers. I thought this would be the difference and in the end they managed ten goals in six games. Not enough. My guess is they will stay the course although probably a blueliner or two will shake loose from that fantastic top six, hopefully the Oilers will get in on that action.

 Los Angeles? Well I'm picking against them in round two, which is dumb, for they look like a true contender again. For them the big question is will they be healthy enough to finish San Jose and then Chicago. I think not.

 Pittsburgh - Islanders

 This one proved what a lot of people already figured out (although reading some of Derek Zona's Retweets it seems there are some dopes out there still) - Marc Andre Fleury is a major part of the problem in Pittsburgh. Last year the cheery grinning little bastard (he cost me both of my pools last years, he owes me THIRTY DOLLARS!!!) skated despite a performance that was so abysmal that he got outgoaltended by Ilya Bryzgalov. Instead the blame fell on the D (rightfully in some cases) and Crosby and Malkin, amongst others (!). Indeed many were still pronouncing Fleury as a candidate for Sochi next winter for Canada.

 Shero though, well Shero went out and got Vokuon and it was Vokuon who shut the door on a very game Isles club after the laugher Fleury turned in in game four. Is Vokuon and this D enough to take this club all the way, as I would bet the vast majority of predictions figured they would win it all? Very very unlikely. And Fleury is now being mentioned by some as a candidate to be bought out this summer. Like the band that has toured for a decade and is labelled an 'overnight sensation' so too is Fleury's fall from grace 'sudden', no matter how surprised some might be.

 Montreal - Ottawa

 The only series I picked incorrectly although I hemmed and hawwed on it. When it came down to it things weren't even close as ALL of the bad luck happened to Montreal at once. Ottawa had been ruined by injuries to key players all season, scratch that, should have been ruined, but now only Giggly Spezza was out. The Habs? Well in the space of a game they lost three of their top six forwards and then, to add salt to the wound, lost Price to a freak accident while they were somehow still making a battle of it. An overtime goal by Turris on Budaj and then a blowout and that was it. For the Habs though I think the future is bright, they have some great young players. For the Sens, well, its odd, for a franchise that used to be known as the worst possible club come playoff time they won with a bunch of unknowns and, when the Habs tried to goon it up, kicked the shit out of them. Strange but entertaining days.

 Washington - New York

 I didn't watch a minute of this.

 Boston - Toronto

 Probably the most entertaining series of the first round. This one was a war and its probable that Boston won't get past round two because of the toll taken on their D. The Leafs need at least one top four D (ideally two) and a better centre than Tyler Bozak in the top nine, which shouldn't be hard to find, and, well, I know they rode the percentages most of the year but add that to the mix and I think they're back in the playoffs next year.

 Now this depends, of course, on Carlyle playing his best lineup, funny how with Gardiner, Frattin and MacArthur in the lineup and Grabovski getting better linemates and more icetime that suddenly the Leafs looked the Bruins' equal and could have (should have) won the series. And while Carlyle will be bulletproof for this season one would be safe in saying that better lineup choices all season probably means a division title and better first round matchup for Toronto.

 Oh well.

 Boston, well for the Bruins that one was one for the ages. Rask saved them for much of the series and they got little offence outside of the Krejci line until there was less than a minute left in game seven and really I think they are done now unless Seidenberg is not really that badly hurt. But regardless of all of this you can add it to the franchise lore. What a series.

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